As Michael Caine used to say “there’s not many people who know this, but…” Well, did you know that Kia is the oldest motor car manufacturer in Korea? Not only that but the company also started its mechanical transportation life by making bicycles, just like many western companies including Peugeot, BSA and Bianchi. Motorcycles came next for Kia in 1951, and the first car rolled off the line in 1973.
But speeding through history and arriving at the subject of the Kia Sorento, we at CAR had the use of the first generation Sorento for a full year and were already impressed with its abilities. That one was a full 4×4 with low range and I once witnessed one making its way up the steep slopes of the Matroosberg in snow season after I had decided that my 4×4 had insufficient ground clearance to continue past the half-way mark. The new version was launched in 2009 with a complete redesign under Peter Schreyer. This was when Kia realised that most customers would not need a low range transfer ‘box but would still require some off-roading ability. This is also true in rugged South Africa, where people who need serious mountain climbing abilities will invariably buy double cab bakkies, Land Rovers or Jeeps, while the rest will choose between rear wheel drive or part-time 4×4 vehicles.
So, now to the new Kia Sorento. It is officially called a facelift, a name that usually means a few cosmetic changes have been made to inject some extra product life until the design team can finalize the brand new model. On this occasion the company could have waxed lyrical and called it a completely new model, but chose not to. Good for them for underplaying the marketing hype because this time, not only has the front and rear end received cosmetic upgrades, but the body has been restructured to free up additional legroom in the seven-seater model (30mm more in the second row and 9 mm added to the third row). This does not affect structural rigidity, which goes up by 18 per cent. In addition, the roof height has been reduced by 10 mm for a sleeker look. The suspension geometry has also been redesigned to provide improved NVH quality. On our test drive around Yeosu in southern Korea in a model sporting higher profile tyres it was evident that ride refinement has improved with the suspension proving supple without being too soft.
Our other test unit had the largest 19-inch tyres fitted with a 55 section. This low profile meant that small bumps were still a bit harsh and smaller diameter wheels (17-inch is standard on lower spec models) with a slightly higher profile might be the best for off-roading use. The transmission will automatically send torque to the rear wheels once traction is lost at the front but a lock button is provided to give a 50:50 torque split up at speeds of up to 30 km/h for slippery conditions and sandy off-road crawling. The V6 model we sampled wasn’t best suited to its gearbox and had to to juggle its six ratios a bit to find the best choice, but manual selection is also available if you are frequently changing speeds.
The interior is just like other modern Kias – very classy and user-friendly. An especially neat feature is the information display between the two main dials that displays, among other things, readouts of average and instantaneous fuel consumption as well as your range to empty in one display. A few new upholstery colour options are available including brown, black and beige. The most popular in SA might be a black upper facia with beige lower. Features are plentiful and include a double panoramic sunroof and an eight-inch centre display with integrated reversing camera.
The powertrains likely to make it to South Africa are the 2,2 diesel (145 kW and 421 N.m or 3,5 petrol V6 (210 kW and 343 N.m) versions. Gearboxes are six-speeders, whether manual or automatic. Steering is assisted with an electric motor that has three “weighting” settings but the overall feel was typically springy and a bit vague. We have found this with most electrical set-ups but they do seem to be improving over time. Expect the new Sorento to reach our shores in the first quarter of 2013.